My son constantly needs attention. He sometimes pulls his younger sister's hair to get her complain and get our attention. He talks back frequently. He repeatedly says that other kids in school bother him, which is not true. He has a hard time keeping friends, although we have set up many playdates for him. He blames others for his misbehavior i.e. he says another child bothered him that's why he hit him. He has good eye contact and is a charming boy with a smile on his face. He excels academically at school. Sometimes when he is asked a question, his answer is very off task. He disobeys us a lot and does not listen. We have tried praising him for his good behavior and having consequences for his bad behavior. It has worked out to some extent, but we think that he is aggressive at school and does not have proper social emotional skills needed to interact with his peers. He does not get along with any of his classmates. Teachers say his behavior in the classroom is not appropriate. He says things that upset others ie. today he told me a few kids in my class stink, do you want me to show you who they are? Please help!
First, I'm glad you're focusing on praising the good behaviours as well as attaching negative consequences to the bad ones, and doing it consistently. Consistency is key, IMHO, in seeing positive outcomes from discipline.
Based on your description of inconsistent discipline from one parent, and both yelling and hitting as punishment, I wonder if maybe this is his way of dealing with his home environment. He has learned that acting out gets him attention, and that hitting or yelling is one way to deal with someone that does something that upsets you. Maybe your husband would be willing to attend some parenting classes with you or by himself, to learn some alternative strategies to hitting and yelling as the first line of defense?
I have a 5.5 yr old who is currently hard at work to push EVERY SINGLE ONE of my buttons. (I swear some were factory installed about 5.5 years ago.) It's a mighty struggle to maintain my temper in the face of her dogged attempts to get a rise out of me, but most of the time I succeed. I have to count to 10 A LOT, and make sure my immediate reaction when she really goes over the line is to use a lot of "I" phrases in telling her what I think of what she said/did ("It hurts my feelings when you call me names," or "Would you like for me to talk to you like you just did to me? It really makes me sad. I would not want you to be sad like that."). And of course, there are immediate and established consequences for these actions. First offense, second offense, and so on. She knows what's coming when she decides to pole-vault over the line.
I've also discovered that, after I calm down, if I sit down with her and not only explain how it made me feel and why it's not something we do/say to people we love, I can then ask her why she did it and get some surprising and enlightening answers. Maybe she's jealous that I spent time with her brother and not her. Maybe she's upset that we haven't had a playdate with a particular friend in a while and thinks it's my fault. Letting her tell me what's going on in a safe space has helped more than anything else with reducing the number of "let me see how much I can hurt you" times.
I'm going to agree with Valkyrie that part of your son's deal is probably a response to inconsistencies in parenting style that can be confusing to kids as well as a way to cry out for attention (to kids it is often the case that, negative attention is better than no attention).
Because of the statement:
I am going to add an element that may be a newer idea to many parents (and is counter to the pediatrician recommended star chart), but I have seen this work with toddlers and teens (and everyone in between). I've seen it work oppositional disorder kids as well as "at-risk" adolescents and teens And I use it with my own daughter most of the time and so far, so good.
To Understand First Some kids fight rules and a sense of "being controlled" by seeking out ways to feel "in control" of their parents. This is especially true in children that experience physical punishment and the negative feelings and sense of shame that comes with being hit by their parents (at least, in cultures where being hit is no longer the standard).
You mention your son's behavior at school is "inappropriate" and he has trouble keeping friends. Is he exhibiting bully-like behavior? Pulling on his sister's hair is another red-flag warning you have a kid struggling with the difference between influence and control. Bully behaviors can arise for a number of reasons, but kids that are punished physically are at greater risk for becoming kids that attempt to exert control over others in inappropriate ways.
These kids specifically act out in ways that will stress their parents out - it is as if the child gains a sense of power and control by pushing you past your limits to where you are no longer in control. I have a feeling this is a part of what may be happening in your situation.
What to do about it
I highly suggest reading "Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families" by Stephen Covey and trying to live your lives by this book. I think you will find it incredibly helpful.
From my experience the following can contribute to the behavior you described:
I suggest to try the following:
It sounds like you have a child with low "social" intelligence.
People with low social intelligence have trouble figuring out and valuing social rules. Like your son, they can be academically very smart (have a high verbal/mathematical intelligence), but that doesn't help them understand why other people put value on behaving in certain -- sometimes arbitrary-seeming -- ways. (E.g., in most U.S. cultures, when you meet someone you're supposed to say, "Hi, how are you?")
They don't grasp instinctively what most people do, that social communication is not just about information but also about emotion. (E.g., when people in the U.S. say, "Hi, how are you?" they are not looking for detailed health information, but to "connect" with the other person, to indicate positive feelings towards him.)
Sometimes -- but not always -- people with low social intelligence have trouble reading people's faces, or understanding their emotional cues. This is common in children diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, BTW, but (I think) one doesn't have to have Asperger's to have low social intelligence.
Social rules are what allow people to live/work together without friction. Without knowing the social rules of the society you're in (Japan has different social rules from the U.S.; upper class British society differs from working class, etc.) you would inadvertently give all sorts of false signals. Worse, if you don't understand that people are reacting to you -- often negatively! -- based on signals you don't realize you have sent, the world becomes a (scary) unpredictable place.
Children with low social intelligence require instruction. Without it, they will give offense without meaning to, and will have life-long difficulty getting along with others/making friends.
The first step is to listen to what your son is telling you. Ask questions. If the answers indicate he doesn't seem to understand a situation he was in, explain it to him. If he doesn't know how to deal with something, help him figure it out. Tell him the rules. (This may be hard for you because you may not ever have had to think consciously about them before.) Tell him if learns the rules he can get other people to stop bothering him without hitting them and getting in trouble.
If your son says another child stinks, it's possible he means that literally, not judgmentally, and is commenting on the phenomenon. Ask him what he means: do they smell like laundry detergent? Like onions? Explain that people sometimes do smell differently, and come up with some reasons why. Ask him if he can think of any. Then say while it's always okay to ask you or his dad for information, in our society it is not polite to comment to other people on other people's smells. If he wants to know why he has to be polite, explain to him that politeness is how we get along with each other without making other people mad, so people are happy to be with each other. (If he persists, explain to him about social rules.)
If he says children are bothering him, find out how. Six-and seven-year olds, even well-meaning, well-behaved ones, do bother each other. They don't yet have the empathy to understand how the other child feels in all but obvious situations (they pretty much know not to hit, or take toys away, but maybe not to refrain from saying, "Ha, ha, I won!").
For some things (maybe another child likes to touch your son's cool bear hat), you may be able offer a suggestion of how to fix the problem, or better, ask him if he can think of a way of fixing it. However, it's also possible that things another child has no control over are bothering your son. Maybe someone stands too close, or laughs too much, or has an unpleasant sounding voice. Tell him that you sympathize, but that children cannot help the way they laugh, or talk, or smell, or look; we are polite and kind to everybody, unless they are deliberately doing mean things to us. Tell him that not everybody is bothered by the same things. It's possible there are things about him that might bother another child, but he would still want that kid to be polite and kind to him, right?
Talk to him about being a good friend. Together, come up with a list of things good friends do. Ask which kids in his class might be good friends.
However, also tell him that we don't have to like everybody, but we are polite and kind to everybody. I told my daughter that there were a couple of her friends' parents that I didn't like, and who didn't like me, but that she would never be able to guess who they were because we are polite and kind to each other. I think this almost blew her mind, BTW, she kept asking who they were, but it really got the concept across.
Finally, if he is asking for help/information (the inappropriate things he says) and you are responding with dismay and disapproval, it would be natural for him to talk back and otherwise act out. Try to listen to him more. If he does things you don't understand, ask him his reasons. (Yes, all children need to be listened to, but whenever your child has a different temperament than you, it is even more important.)
Consistency between your husband and your self would be ideal, and I agree with Valkyrie that it is necessary for discipline purposes. See both her and balanced mama on what to do when he does misbehave. However, if he is acting out because he is a bright child not getting the answers he needs, he will be helped enormously by even one parent paying attention and explaining things. I find it dismaying that he seems to be confiding in his teacher ("a few kids in my class stink") when he should be confiding in you. I think, however, that if you start trying to understand what's happening with him, if you become his ally in figuring out how to behave and why others behave as they do, he will start confiding in you again. In fact, he will probably return to the common pattern of behaving well at school and acting out at home; but I think his misbehavior at home should decrease substantially.
This sounds alot like me when I was a child. I'm not going to even attempt to provide "scientific" or "researched" meaning or methodology, but I will give you a taste of what transformed me from the problem child to the man I am today.
-Questions. Ask them. When he talks back ask "Well, how do we make this right?" or "How do you think it should be?" Don't dumb down your responses. Talk to him like he is an adult. Use large multi-syllable words. His mind is one that needs constant challenge. Provide the challenges.
-Be sporadic and random. Catch him off guard with a "Hey, look at this..." or a new coloring book and some crayons. Ask him to read something for you. Stop reading right now and walk over and kiss him on the head. Don't grab him or hug him, just a quick kiss without bothering him. Let him stay in the zone he is in; he'll recognize it and it will warm him. Have your husband ask him to help.
-You say he is excelling academically; he's probably bored at school. The work isn't challenging enough. His answers are off-base because he is trying to see them in a different light. He's in his own world. We're all just visitors to it. He's going to AMAZE you in the coming years.
-He may be getting teased/pick on for being intelligent (it happens - I lived it). I can't think of a polite/nice way to put this: Don't ever say/think that social incompatibility isn't true. He is smarter than his peers and has trouble dealing with people that aren't as smart as he. he may be intellectually developed far higher than his peers and that may be why he is "bothered" by them. Ask him why they bother him.
-The lack of friends: he doesn't want them. His friends are likely to be found on a shelf. Books. Get him more. Take him to the library. Don't worry about the reading level or what YOU or his teachers THINK he should have, let him pick. Give him control of his education.
-His questioning and disregard of authority is an exploration of the world surrounding him. He wants to know what is acceptable, what isn't, and what he can get away with. Again, let him help determine what is right or wrong. With him, rules aren't going to be black and white, he wants to see the process behind the creation of the rule. Don't try reasoning with him, it won't work. Instead guide him through the reasoning by helping direct his mind. When you tell him to do something and he says no, ask him why? If he answers with "because I don't wanna" or similar ask him what he wants to do. Don't leave something too open ended, force the behavior through thought process manipulation.
-NO PHYSICAL DISCIPLINE. EVER. This doesn't get to the root of the problem. It simply puts lipstick on a pig. His father can be a disciplinary, but yelling and physical punishment is not needed. That is one of the reasons he is acting up. If he is in trouble, explain why. If he isn't supposed to be doing something, explain why. I don't want to belittle or criticize harshly, but:
and later you say:
Sounds a bit similar to me...
What if his parents are simply imagining misbehavior and using that as an excuse for disciplinary actions? I want to repeat, I am not trying to be disrespectful, I'm viewing this as he does.
-What draws out that awesome smile you describe? Figure that out and figure out a way to praise him with that. Don't provide general "attaboys" or high-fives. Those are for normal kids. You have a gifted one, he needs a gifted praise system.
-Lastly, enroll the assistance of the school. Talk to the principal about putting him into a gifted program. Ask them to challenge him more. Ask them to get work from the second and third grade classes and give it to him.
I'm telling you, this kid sounds so much like me. I feel like I know him. I wonder...did he develop quickly? Was he walking/talking at a young age? Is his vocabulary somewhat large for a 6-year-old? Does he do seemingly simple tasks in complex ways? The simple description you provided just makes me think he is a very bright, intelligent young man that needs more challenges.
This answer is ment to confront you. It will give you an unpleasent feeling. But hey, unpleasent feelings are there to indicate that something must change. If you do not wish to read a confronting answer, if you do not wish to feel uncomfortable for the sake of your child, then simply don't read it.
I only base this on the following quote (which seems to be removed from the initial question).
This can be kept very short: You need to love your child unconditally. Oh, you say you love your child unconditionally, no matter what? WRONG!!! How is being angry, yelling and hitting a form of love? Do you think your child needs to earn your love? WRONG!!!! That is totally not the concept of unconditionally.
You are part of the problem and you need to work on yourselves (that is, you and your husband need NOT to work on your behaviour, but on how you are). You will do that for your child? Look at the bright side, if you are part of the problem you are logically a part of a possible solution as well. Doesn't that feel empowerin, that you are actually able to do anthing about it?
You need to love your child unconditionally. Getting angry with him is the first sign that you don't, the second sign is yelling and the third worst sign of all is physically hurting him, which results in mental scars that last way longer than the bruces he might obtain by it.
And what if your child is traumatized by something horrible as a child molester which made him the way he is, and you totally are not the root cause of the problem? Then being angry with him, yelling at him and hitting him excludes you directly from being anywhere close to being part of the healing process of this trauma, or anything that is related to guide him towards better behavior. So stop searching for external factors (school, friends, his intellectual intelligence or absense of emotional intellegence, whatever...) and become a part of the solution.
Contemplate the meaning of unconditional love, and just try it out for a week. Its hard work hard to do so in the beginning I am sure (it requires you to get over your ego and conquer your fears), it gets more natural as you go, but its your duty as a parent do so.
No, no, no, no, no.... The child won't abuse you, he won't abuse you for your goodness... Loving unconditionally doesn't mean accepting whatever he does and say and be ok with it. This is your fear and ego talking... Get rid of those, you do not need them.
Now start loving.
P.S. Of course I can elaborate on this more, and of course I want to help you any further with more kindly phrased guidance. But you needed the slap in the face to wake up. If you do not like what I say or want other resources? Just Google around with keywords like "unconditional parenting"
P.S. I got children of my own. I experienced the effects of loving unconditionally. He says "thank you" when I give him something, I never taught him that. He comes at me spontaneously, giving me a kiss once a while, or a hug, I do not need to ask for that. Of course he messes around with his food, chases the cat sometimes, takes away a toy from his younger brother, of course he lays screaming on the ground when he doesn't want to put on his coat... Well, that's just part of his learning path, of his path growing up. I understand his behavior, I tell/show him whats right, I do no get emotionally upset when he screams and runs around the house not willing to put his shoes on. I do not get personally involved in that. It isn't personal either. We just continue with what he needs, the learning experience. I do not teach him behavior, I allow him and guide him to have experience to develop himself to become a loving being.
What matters in the end? A loving home? Or ...